August 26, 2009 at 1:32 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 6 Comments

Okay, I have to confess that I’m thinking about books with only about half my mental capacity today.  The other half is devoted to wedding details.

The caterer wants me to worry about how the napkins should be folded.  My shoes haven’t arrived yet and we’re leaving tomorrow.  I’m still not sure what to play for a wedding march – anything but the Wedding March.  But what I’m really worried about is the most important part.

What books should we pack?

I’m so preoccupied with this that earlier I actually found myself saying, “I had to pick up a prescription at Powell’s.”  Um, books may be a lot of things but I don’t think they actually count as a pharmaceutical.  Even if you’re reading Hunter S. Thompson.

There’s a tragedy involved here.  Of great magnitude!  Don’t tell me about natural disasters; don’t you understand, my other Booker books haven’t arrived yet??  I’m trying out a new online bookseller that shall remain nameless, and I’m unclear whether these books have actually even shipped.  Prospects are grim that they’ll arrive in time for me to take them on the trip tomorrow.  The dilemma is that we’ll only be back with one day to spare before the Booker short list is announced.  Do I buy second copies of these five books, read them, and sell the duplicates?  Or do I blow off the idea and pretend I won’t be obsessing obsessing obsessing about it all week?

The other problem is road trip reading.  We’ll be doing the first leg with Sweetie Junior, who will then either be dropped off with her grandparents, or possibly not.  Then we won’t see her after the wedding for another two weeks.  So I have to try to find something we can either finish in six hours, or that we won’t mind putting off halfway through but might possibly have a chance to finish.  Right now I’m down to contemplating Beowulf.

Then my man Rocket Scientist and I will have roughly thirty hours of combined road trip to ourselves.  Somehow I find that my contemplated road trip stack currently includes seven books.  I think we can actually finish two or three.  Bah.  (The list includes The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, If the Buddha Married, Just a Couple of Days, A Spot of Bother, The MagiciansThe 4-Hour Work Week, and Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America.  Though come to think of it, perhaps a book called Born Fighting shouldn’t be in the honeymoon stack).

Then there’s my personal reading.  I’m probably deluding myself that I’ll have any reading time at all.  But then, we will be gone for 11 days and it’s hard to imagine there won’t be a single moment I’ll have time to kill.  I have a stack of seven, which to me sounds dangerously skimpy for that length of time, but I tend to read almost nothing on vacation.  At least, according to my standards.

Tune in next time for another Reading Road Trip!

Daisy Chain #6

August 25, 2009 at 8:21 am | Posted in Daisy Chains | 3 Comments

I was reading How I Became a Famous Novelist, and I read this line:  “So that’s pretty much any time after eleven in the morning.”  I looked at the clock, and it read 11:00.

The Strain -> RatsThe Strain acknowledges using information from Rats.

The Face on Your Plate -> You are Being Lied To:  The poetry of T. S. Eliot.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey -> How to Paint a Dead Man -> The Quickening Maze:  Characters who lose a twin sibling.  Okay, how is it possible that could come up in three random books in five days?

That Old Cape Magic -> Sharp Objects:  Families in which all the children have first names starting with J.  I noticed this because my family did the same thing.  There are 16 of us all together.

Sharp Objects -> Everything Matters!:  Carly Simon; a female character with a human bite scar in the area of her hip.  Now that is random.

On Fire -> Everything Matters!:  Choking child pounded on the back until the food flies out.

Yet More Books

August 24, 2009 at 9:35 am | Posted in Book Blather | 3 Comments

Here’s my reading from last week:

Airships – A trippy, experimental collection of short stories from the 70s.

Arrowsmith – A sticking point in my reading through the Pulitzers.  I enjoyed it but it seemed to take a month to read.

The Next 100 Years – RS and I discussed this book quite a bit.  There were areas that sounded astoundingly perceptive, and other areas that read like pure sci fi.  The book focuses on geopolitics.

Blankets – If you read Craig Thompson’s Goodbye, Chunky Rice you will be as astounded as I was that this graphic novel is done in an entirely different style.  It’s a beautiful, lyrical look at first love and the ideological challenges of teenagers.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.  It’s funny that I read it because I saw a character in another comic drawn reading it.

Why We Hate Us – I don’t think I was cranky enough to enjoy this book as much as I could have.  Dick Meyer talks about our lack of civic engagement and common courtesy.  True enough.

How to Paint a Dead Man – The first of my UK books!  I feel smug as can be that I got to read this before most people in the US, and I’ll know when the Booker short list is announced what more of the books are like.  This one is lovely and worth the read.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey – Dang it, I still can’t quite figure out the ending of this.  C’mon, give me a hint?  Actually, what I love in a book is that it leaves just enough unresolved that one can’t stop thinking about it.

Scarlet Sister Mary – Another Pulitzer winner.  I had to skip ahead because I feel compelled to read the entire Louis Bromfield trilogy instead of just Early Autumn, and, well, they’re enormous.

That Old Cape Magic – I love Richard Russo so much.  From the very first page I was smiling to myself.  He has a knack for the most realistic, trivial conversations that reveal all the many layers of complexity in family relationships.  His marriages in particular jump right off the page.  But the best part is the sublimely ridiculous comic moments.  It doesn’t get better than this.

Eating People is Wrong – Gotta love this title.  It’s a farce set in academia, and what’s funny is that Malcolm Bradbury didn’t become a professor until years after he wrote this book.

Hello, Again – A graphic novel about forgiveness.

What Begins With Bird – A very poetic literary book that probably went over my head a bit.

Sharp Objects – One of the very best of horror novels.  But don’t read it if you’re easily icked out.

On Fire – A great working man’s memoir about being a firefighter.  And dogs.  And beer.

The Quickening Maze – Haha!  This book isn’t even on the US Amazon site yet.  This is how a historical novel ought to be written, people.  And it’s even brief!  I am having high hopes for the rest of the Booker long list, given the three I’ve read so far.

Today I am reading Everything Matters!  The exclamation point is actually in the title, but I think I would use it when referring to this book anyway.  Reading it is a privilege.

Vote: Least Appropriate Honeymoon Reading

August 21, 2009 at 3:35 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 10 Comments

Well, kids, it’s that time again:  time to figure out what to pack for a trip.  And I don’t mean swimsuits.  What does one read on vacation?  More specifically, what does one read on one’s honeymoon?

With me, vacation reading is more a question of what not to bring, since obviously one can usually only fit 8-12 books in one’s luggage.  So help me out.  What would you not recommend reading as a brand-new newlywed?

(The big day is August 29).

Best answer wins a piece of leftover wedding cake in a Baggie, shipped to your door.

“Scarlet Sister Mary”

August 21, 2009 at 8:55 am | Posted in Fiction | 2 Comments

Scarlet Sister Mary, by Julia Peterkin, won the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1929.  I read it in two minds.

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On the one hand, this is a really delightful story.  Scarlet Sister Mary is a great character, bold and sensual, and Peterkin’s writing includes pretty touches of nature that almost make a fairy tale.  I could see this being someone’s favorite book.

On the other hand, it’s just really hard to read stuff from the early part of the 20th century with a modern ear for political correctness.  Reading dialect is bad enough.  I’m glad nobody uses locutions such as “I’se gwine” in novels today, or if they do I hope it’s in a spirit of irony.  Beyond this, there’s the portrayal of blacks as simple and happy, in the sense that they were “better off” in primitive conditions.  I would think this is arguable.  It’s one of those things.  If Julia Peterkin was black, would the book have won the Pulitzer?

That’s the big advantage of reading these almost quaint books in the order in which they were published.  We can enjoy the writing, while realizing that the attitudes behind it will grow more modern and – hopefully – enlightened with the passing decades.

“How to Paint a Dead Man”

August 20, 2009 at 8:21 am | Posted in Fiction | 1 Comment

How to Paint a Dead Man is Sarah Hall’s second novel to make it to the Booker list.  (She was on the short list in 2004).  Its original title was The Bottles.

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The story is told through the interlocking stories of characters in different time periods.  There are voices in first, second, and third person.  Chapter headings are the same each time that character speaks up again, so it’s like a serial broadcast of a show.  And now it’s time for… “The Fool on the Hill.”  Like that.  So it’s interesting from a technical standpoint.

I admit that this slowed me down for the first 20 pages or so.  But I found myself getting more and more wrapped up in the story, so that I went from “Ugh, I don’t know about this one” to “I really like this” to “five stars” within 250 pages.  It’s about the singular inner perspective of the artist, about coping with tragedy, and about seizing life.  It’s packed with brief moments of insight.  The language is poetic and uncomplicated.  It’s a rewarding and undemanding read.

Best of luck to Sarah Hall on September 8, when the Booker short list is announced.


August 19, 2009 at 10:11 am | Posted in Book Blather | 2 Comments

I’ve read 300 books so far this year!

Just sayin’.

Last year, I hadn’t read my 300th book until October 5.  It looks like I’ll only reach 476 if I keep up my current rate, not quite up to my goal of 500.  Better step it up!

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Both Eyes

August 18, 2009 at 3:52 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Narcissism!  Why the heck not?

I was exorcised at my baptism.

I can recite the alphabet backward really fast.

Foods I think are icky:  Macaroni & cheese; marshmallows; beef stroganoff.  I don’t care for popcorn or chocolate either.

Pet peeves:  Tailgaters; apostrophe abuse; people who ask to use my “restroom.”  There’s a tub in there, so it’s a bathroom!

Things I refuse to do:  Wear high heels; use a credit card; consume animal products.

I am good at:  Cleaning house; reading aloud; packing a super-tiny suitcase; following a budget.

I am bad at:  Parking; doing math in my head; making confirmation calls.

I failed my driving test twice and didn’t get a license until I was 29.

I’ve walked over 680 miles this year and plan to reach 1000 by year’s end.

I’m on a first-name basis with librarians at three branches.

I could cast a horoscope and do a Tarot reading by the time I was 12, thanks to a rather singular upbringing.

I can also ride a unicycle a few feet, read a bit of Japanese, and use chopsticks with either hand.

I’m a member of Mensa.

While I plan to read 500 books this year, it’s not the first time I’ve committed to doing a stunt and it probably won’t be the last.  The secret is making written goals.

Anyway, that’s me.  Hopefully that satisfies everyone’s Random BS quota for the day.

“Me Cheeta”

August 18, 2009 at 8:52 am | Posted in Fiction | 2 Comments

Me Cheeta is the first book I’ve read on the Booker long list this year.  It’s a mock Hollywood memoir, supposedly written by Cheeta, the chimp from the Tarzan movies.  When I first saw this book, before the Booker list was announced, I shrugged it off as gimmicky.  On reading it I found it to be not only a clever satire but a powerful and complex work.

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Me Cheeta is about the relationship between humans and animals.  It’s about what makes humans human, and whether we are really so different from animals after all.  It’s about the environment, the price of fame, and unrequited love.  It’s about some very fine things, but it’s also full of some of the snarkiest gossip imaginable.  All that’s left is to find out how much of it James Lever made up and how much is documentable from the golden age of Hollywood.

The Stack

August 17, 2009 at 9:02 am | Posted in Book Blather | 3 Comments

Here’s what I read last week.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog:  I almost blew this off because I thought it would be chick lit.  Instead I think it might be on my top ten for the year, though the ending upset me.

Freedom’s Battle:  Everything you ever wanted to know about the history of humanitarian interventions.  I was interested to see that yet again, the history I read for fun was never touched on in my university history courses.  What else weren’t they telling us?

Good-Bye:  This was a collection of graphic stories by Yoshihiro Tatsumi from before manga became so popular.  Dark, disturbing, and brilliant.  You won’t believe what was actually going on in the frame the cover is taken from.

Shop Class as Soulcraft:  Go ahead and read this thing.  I know, I know, I don’t like reading heavily promoted books either, but this one is definitely worth it.  Crawford is subversive and has things to say about working in a cubicle farm that hadn’t crossed my mind, though I’ve done it for 15 years.  Besides, he’s a hot guy who can use tools and has a master’s.  And I thought my man Rocket Scientist was the only one…

The Girl Who Played With Fire:  Even better than the first one.  Stieg Larsson is writing books in heaven, right?

Me Cheeta:  Another winner.  It’s the first title I’ve read off this year’s Booker long list, and if it’s any indication, this is a promising year.

Airships:  Something I read off the Top 10 list.  Trippy.

Arrowsmith:  Finally I am getting back on track on the Pulitzer list.  I enjoyed this, but for some reason I found it a very dense read.  I was surprised to see Babbitt make a cameo appearance.

Right now I’m reading The Next 100 Years, and it’s stirring up discussion at my house.  Whether you agree with the conclusions or not, it’s guaranteed to get you thinking.

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